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Why To Exercise Today: Don't Fall, Or If You Do, Get Less Hurt

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(Stougard/Wikimedia Commons)
(Stougard/Wikimedia Commons)

Falls are no fun for anyone, as I can attest after limping for the last three months, legacy of a slippery grass hill on the fourth of July. But when you're elderly, falls can kill you. Usually not right away, but the death rate in the aftermath of a broken hip is terrifying: you become two to five times more likely to die in the months afterward.

So even if you're not old, it's never too early to start preparing, and an overview of studies just out in the medical journal BMJ offers persuasive evidence that exercise can help you avoid falls or get less hurt if you do go down. From the press release:

Well-designed exercise programmes can prevent falls in older adults living at home. However, evidence to date that these programmes can prevent injuries caused by falls is poor.

Researchers from France therefore looked to see whether fall-prevention exercise programmes are associated with a significantly lower risk of fractures and other injuries due to falls. The main aim of the paper was to review the current evidence about the effect of exercise interventions on different outcomes of injurious falls.

Data were taken from the Cochrane Library, Pubmed, EMBASE and CINAHIL through June 2013. The review included 17 trials with a total of 2195 participants in the exercise group and 2110 in the control groups. The mean age was 76 years and 77% were women.

Tai Chi was the exercise in two of the trials but the rest consisted of gait, balance and functional training (exercise which involves training for activities performed in daily life). Most trials also included strength / resistance training exercises....

Most of the exercise interventions tended to reduce injurious falls in all categories. Exercise seemed to significantly decrease the rate of falls resulting in medical care, serious injuries and fractures.

This review provides evidence that fall prevention exercise programmes for older people not only reduce fall rates but also prevent injuries resulting from falls in older community-dwelling individuals. The researchers say this effect appears most pronounced for the most severe fall-related injuries.

This program aired on October 30, 2013. The audio for this program is not available.

Carey Goldberg Twitter Editor, CommonHealth
Carey Goldberg is the editor of WBUR's CommonHealth section.




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